Archive for the 'General' Category

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Reports of 20 dead after what appears to be terrorist incident at Manchester concert

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017



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The Westminster attacks: It’ll be some time before we get the full picture

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

We do know that a policemen was killed bringing current death toll to 2



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Donald Trump, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt feature in the big stories overnight

Sunday, January 15th, 2017



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Professor Anthony King, one of Britain’s leading psephologists, dies at the age of 82

Thursday, January 12th, 2017


Prof Anthony King being awarded, alongside Prof Ivor Crewe, the 2014 Practical Politics Book of the Year award

Professor Anthony King, one of Britain’s leading political scientists, has died at the age of 82. He’s perhaps best known for his appearances on election results programmes and his lucid analysis. From 1983 – 2005, he was BBC TV analyst on General Election nights. Also, every month for many years, he was the main commentator on political opinion polls for The Daily Telegraph.

He wrote many books on politics and was co-editor of the Britain at the Polls series of essays and, in 2008, The British Constitution.

King was co-author with David Butler of the Nuffield College election studies for the 1964 and 1966 and wrote Britain Says Yes: the 1975 Referendum on the Common Market.

Many of his later works were co-authored with his then University of Essex colleague, Prof Ivor Crewe.

I met him once at an Oxford dinner shortly after I had founded PB in 2004 and we talked about the creation of the site. He was a great communicator with a wonderful ability to make politics relevant to audiences other than political geeks.

He’ll be missed.

Mike Smithson




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After a Year of Revolt, what’s in store for 2017?

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

Charles2 (1)

There might well be scares but there won’t be shocks

Few would have predicted twelve months ago that Donald Trump would be about to be inaugurated, that Theresa May would be prime minister and that Paul Nuttall would be leader of UKIP. Those who did should have cashed in nicely. There were straws in the wind for all of these (though most would have anticipated a change of UKIP leader after a Remain win, not a Leave), but the odds were still strongly against.

Can 2017 provide even more shocks and surprises? After the last two years, it’d be foolhardy to rule it out but my guess would be that the narrative of year will be of a mainstream fightback under pressure (though this narrative won’t necessarily be correct: the local trends are likely to remain towards the political insurgents; it’s just that this year’s elections have them starting further back).

Domestically, politics is Brexit. We’ll get the Supreme Court ruling next month on whether the government can trigger Article 50 without the need to go to parliament. After the strong ruling in the High Court in the applicant’s favour, I’d be surprised if the Supreme Court overturned that decision (although as said here, I think there are strong grounds for doing so). That’s going to mean the early months being dominated by the triggering legislation, in order for Theresa May to hit her end-of-March deadline.

My expectation is that parliament will give the government what it wants – a clean Act not tying its hands with conditions. There probably aren’t the numbers in the Commons to force amendments through and the Lords are unlikely to risk more than token opposition (which is to say that they’ll back down when the Commons reverses any amendments they pass). However, there’s a chance they won’t, in which case there is a serious chance of a May 2017 election, particularly given that Corbyn has said he’d support a dissolution motion were one brought. Given that Corbyn, the PLP and the government might all have reason to want an early election, and that the critical time for the Brexit votes ties in with dates when an election would need to be called to coincide with the local elections, I’d put that chance at about 1 in 3 – though the best odds of 7/4 don’t offer value.

If there is an election, the secondary markets however might do. A Labour leadership election would be likely to follow, where Clive Lewis (10/1) might be worth a punt (with the added advantage that if there’s not an election, the bet still runs). ‘Who governs?’ elections can go wrong for governments but I doubt one would if called because Labour and Lib Dem peers were frustrating Brexit (which is one reason I don’t think they will), and with Corbyn still as Labour leader.

More likely, in the absence of an election, is that the Tory lead will decline as internal divisions over Brexit make themselves felt and the process itself struggles onwards against both domestic and EU opposition. In the ‘Next cabinet minister out’, the Three Brexiteers are top-priced but I’d look elsewhere. As a rule, the payouts in this market are hard to predict months in advance and come about due to incidents of the moment. My tip would be to take your pick of anyone 20/1 and up. What I wouldn’t expect – even in the event of a Con win after a general election – is a major reshuffle. May made huge changes on coming to office and is unlikely to want to repeat that only nine months on.

If there’s not an election, the other domestic betting question is about Corbyn’s longevity as leader: will there be another challenge and will he see the year out? The Unite leadership contest is to some extent a proxy but union elections have notoriously low turnouts and with both the status quo and Momentum-type activists going for him, McClusky should be secure. If he does lose, however, I wouldn’t expect Corbyn to see the year out. Even if he wins, the tide is now probably flowing against the Labour leader. However, as they found last year, the capacity of a Labour leader determined to cling on is immense and were his opponents to lose a second challenge, it’d damage the credibility of a third in 2018 or 2019. Because it’s now a one-shot option, and because a general election is unlikely in 2018, I think Corbyn will see the year out.

Internationally, the year starts with Trump’s inauguration. This will undoubtedly mark a change in style in the White House and in policy too – though quite where his priorities will lie are anyone’s guess. A leader can only fight on so many fronts; is it the Wall, Healthcare, foreign policy or something else? Or will he simply lead an incoherent administration shouting about everything but achieving very little? You can make a good case either way. He ought to go on healthcare, where he at least has congressional support.

In Europe, the course for this year’s elections is probably already set: centre-right administrations will win weak mandates in the Netherlands, France and Germany against populist insurgents. This will then be wrongly credited as a ‘fightback’, after Brexit and Trump. In reality, all three elections will see the mainstream retreat locally. All the same, Wilders, Le Pen and the AfD will end the year with lots of votes but no power.

All of which is to count without Black Swans. Even a series of terrorist attacks is unlikely to swing the European results – the Netherlands votes as soon as March; Fillon would play sufficiently to the same law, order and culture market as Le Pen to see her off; while the AfD have become too extreme to capitalise effectively. Brexit also seems to have consolidated support for the EU among Europeans; 2017 is unlikely to change that dynamic.

The other big Black Swan risk – a major economic downturn, perhaps induced from China – is real but would take time to feed through to political consequences. One to watch for by 2020 rather than 2017.

All in all, after the shocks of 2015 and 2016, we should see a quiet 2017. Famous last words.

David Herdson





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The big one: Cyclefree announces her awards for 2016

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Based on NO polling, focus groups or other quasi-scientific methods

The Nicky Morgan Award for Lack of Self-Awareness

A difficult one, this, with so many contenders, not least Ms Morgan herself. But in the end this was jointly shared by the EU and Britain. Both displayed monumental self-regard and a total inability to understand that, perhaps, just perhaps, their own behaviour had a teensy bit to do with why they could not get on.

The Ken Livingstone Award for Trashing One’s Reputation

Old lizard Ken would run away with this award but he is quite self-important enough not to need his ego stroking anymore. A lot of runners for this one: Gove – not quite Machiavellian enough and perhaps his reputation was rather greater in his own living-room than outside it; Osborne – punishment budget, indeed! Where did he think he was? Northern Ireland?; David Cameron – who gambled and lost but, maybe, history will be kinder. And who could forget the spectacular immolation of Andrea Leadsom, pushed forward by a cabal of Brexiteers like some latter Lady Jane Grey, but fortunately now ensconced with farmers rather than in the Tower. Zac Goldsmith was seriously considered for this one: a sort of consolation prize for two inept and occasionally distasteful campaigns.

But, in the end, there could be only one winner. Arise Baroness Shabby Chakrabarti. Having carefully cultivated a reputation for being a fearless advocate of civil liberties (though perhaps rather more impressive as an advocate for herself), she managed to destroy her own reputation by siding with those who want to downplay the spread of anti-semitism in the party she conveniently joined just before applying her whitewash and from who she, even more conveniently, got her bit of fur. She ought at least to have held out for Wales.

The Nuclear Cockroach Award

It is said that cockroaches will survive nuclear armageddon. Whether true or not, Jeremy Corbyn richly deserves this award. Despite attacks by his own party which would have felled a lesser – or perhaps more sensitive – politician, he is still there as leader, busy remaking the party in his own image and repelling all attempts to oust him. His tribute to HMQ on her 90th birthday was gracious. And he’s not quite as awful at PMQs as he was. Maybe he will turn into the Tortoise of British politics.

The Low Bar Award

This is for the field of human activity where the left behind, the thick, the incompetent, the dull can shine. Awards are not just for the elite, you know! And the winner is English politics where the three party leaders consist of a woman being petulant over leather trousers, a malign tramp and a man with all the charisma of a cloakroom attendant. Well done! (Scotland was disqualified on the grounds that its politicians are able to string a series of coherent sentences together.)

The Total F**king Waste of Money Award

Not Jeb Bush and not Hilary Clinton. No, this award indubitably belongs to all those who paid money to the Clinton Foundation over the years. Oh dear. Never mind.

Best Cleavage in Politics

Mrs May wins this. 10 out of 10 for showing that older women still have breasts and can have style. But ditch the big boiled sweet necklaces, darling. Jewellery which looks as if it came from a fairground is not at all comme il faut.

Most Moving Sporting Moment

Nick Skelton trying not to blub – and failing – as he listened to the National Anthem after finally winning an Olympic Gold at the age of 58. Not a dry eye in the Cyclefree household.

And finally, The Best Political Website Award.

Well, doh! This one, of course. ? (Sorry, Tyson!) Where else can one come to be informed, entertained, advised and insulted and put in a position to make money.

Enjoy the festivities, one and all!



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The St John PB Christmas Day Crossword

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Happy Christmas to everybody

For several years there has been a Christmas Day cross-word on PB pioneered by long-standing PBer StJohn. Here’s the 2016 version – enjoy.

11242016161430

Across

1. Fly in two bloggers (6)
4. Peacekeepers retreated while hiding a blogger – it’s sickening (8)
10. Left annoyed (6,3)
11. Speak at the lowest level (5)
12. Bill introduced by former Prime Minister under duress (7)
13. Ike’s and Abe’s, say? (7)
14. Division in Conservative Socialist Union (5)
15. 5 tried to make these good sellers (3,5)
18. Across the channel where there’s time for loud transport (8)
20. News agency has nothing on poet (5)
23. Top marks repeatedly conceal understanding (7)
25. Castro kept on quietly as a libertarian (3,4)
26. Ted Dexter left home (5)
27. General stores like to keep rented land (9)
28. On Liberty say for building material (8)
29. Areas under jurisdiction of Bishops Palace (6)

Down

1. Little change from US ticket where half is even missing (8)
2. 9 Brexiteers want to leave this way, expert concludes (7)
3. City fills edition of top arts magazine (9)
5. Hitchcock bird detailed in that historic incinerator (6,3,5)
6. Investigate political party wearing spectacles (5)
7. A rebel state in the world of study (7)
8. He believes it’s when April’s foolish (6)
9. Truss up with coil, not holding onto lady luck? (4,10)
16. Writer describing what MPs do as they divide and vote? (5,4)
17. Church holds together, one notes, after backing John Calvin (8)
19. Teachers long for a new leader (7)
21. They oppose dark areas (7)
22. Help out a mate when first Prime Minister (6)
24. Certainly not on reflection an incomplete politician (5)



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After a dramatic political year David Herdson looks at the big picture

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

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David Herdson outside a famous front door

Globalisation is pushing democracy to breaking point. What will give first?

It started with a ship; the Belen Quezeda to be precise. Built in 1884 in Aberdeen, she led a colourful life. Originally named the Zafiro, she ploughed her trade as a collier before being bought by and commissioned into the US navy when it was short of a supply vessel during the Spanish-American War. After her naval service, she passed through further American, Mexican and French hands before being rebuilt in Canada during WWI and finding her way into the footnotes of history. Her rebuild caused her difficulty with the authorities and in 1919, her new owners decided to resolve that problem by renaming her and, more crucially, re-registering her in Panama under that country’s laxer maritime rules. As such, she was the first ship ever to fly a flag of convenience and in so doing, opened up a whole new competitive international market for regulation.

There’s an irony that the birth of that market, so essential to globalisation, should have occurred at a time when the vast inequalities of the 19th century were being eroded not only by the violent forces of war, revolution and recession (and the taxes necessary to pay for them) but also by concerted government action to improve living conditions for the poorest.

Indeed, for a long time, the two processes continued in parallel. Improvements in social conditions and in income were driven both by market mechanisms – companies competing for scarce labour – and by political pressure leading to government intervention. At the same time, the largest or the most mobile firms began to exploit the possibilities of physical or legal relocations.

For a while, the processes could. The number of companies who could act as the owners of the Belen Quezeda did was extremely limited. The great majority of even the large conglomerates were tied to a parent country and that country could regulate as it saw fit (and in any case, most countries that might have been practical alternatives were pursuing much the same policies as each other, so the incentives to relocate tended to be small).

No longer, and not for some time. Europe was the first breach in the construct of national regulation as it actively pushed for its single market in goods, people, services and capital. However, uniquely, Europe also developed a political structure to counter that risk of a race to the regulatory bottom, as Jacques Delors recognised when he pushed for social legislation at a European level to counterbalance the forces of capitalism.

In the world of the late-1980s, that might have worked but the world has moved on. The internet, cheaper international transport, globalised markets, lower trade barriers, a more mobile workforce at both the top and the bottom, the emergence of China as an economic superpower (plus other non-OECD rising powers), competition within OECD countries to attract inward investment and relocations, competitive tax regimes; all have tipped the balance towards the corporations and away from the regulators.

Two groups have benefitted above all from these immense structural changes: the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Extreme poverty has been cut by nearly three-quarters across the globe over the last 30 years, lifting well over a billion people out of that category. At the same time, the wealth of the richest has rocketed: one study found that while in 1978, the richest 0.1% of US families owned 7% of the country’s total wealth, by 2012, they owned 22% of it – their highest share since the early 1930s. The U-curve of that group’s wealth share from the early 1900s to today is far from unique to America.

Unsurprisingly, the group that has been squeezed in that pincer is the middle (although in global terms, the great majority of the populations in OECD countries form part of that ‘middle’). Again, America offers the best example: according to the same study, real household incomes for the bottom 90% have not increased at all on a like-for-like basis since 1986. That simple fact goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Donald Trump (despite his being a member of the 0.1%). It goes a long way to explaining the appeal of Bernie Sanders too, for that matter.

Equivalent facts in other countries go a long way to explaining the appeal of Le Pen, of Tsipras, of Grillo, of Farage, of Wilders and of AfD. Certainly, cultural factors played a big part in the rise of these populist candidates or parties but economic stagnation of specific classes of people plays harmony to the strident melody of the populists’ message of fear and blame. And because no matter how rich or poor you are, the votes all count the same (or at least, the same as someone next door), their voices for once do count.

The question for first-world leaders is what, if anything, can be done about it. Ultimately, where revolution was avoided, the great magnates of the late 19th century were tamed by national regulation and political action. When today’s companies operate on a global level and in a largely free-trade environment, that option doesn’t exist (and even if it did, it would only address one factor). Apple, for example, operates world-wide. If the tax regime in Ireland – its European headquarters – worsens sufficiently, it could up sticks and head elsewhere. HSBC publicly flirted with relocating its head office out of the UK (and out of the EU) before the last general election; by what was perhaps not a coincidence, George Osborne cut the Bank Levy at the first Budget after it.

Put together competitive tax and regulatory regimes, geographically mobile companies (and the billionaires who own them), globalised markets and rampant salary inflation for chief executives and star staff and it’s unsurprising that inequalities have increased. And inevitably, those same structural factors will see them increase further because all the pressure comes in one direction. Unless.

There has to come a breaking point. Politics in the widest sense always finds a solution, though not always through the democratic process. So far, it has done, broadly speaking. Events such as Brexit or Trump’s election (or Hofer’s near-election in Austria) might have been shocking to the mainstream, whose values have been so strongly challenged, but they are the natural consequence of the mainstream failing to deliver a fair share of growth for the majority.

The darker question is what happens when these populists fail to deliver either, as they no doubt will fail to. After all, if the mainstream professionals can’t arrange for the cake to be divided up more equitably, what chance do a bunch of rowdy amateurs have – particularly if their actions shrink the rate of the cake’s growth? The resentment that produced the peoples’ revolts so far would distil into, on the one hand, disillusionment and cynicism, and on the other, more violent and more extreme views; the former removing some of the natural brakes on the latter.

That outcome could be prevented by a global framework that enables innovation and growth but prevents that growth from being skimmed by a tiny elite – but that’s an incredibly tough ask when so many countries have no interest in signing up to such a framework.

Perhaps Marx had a point after all.

David Herdson